Day One: This tournament has been marked on my calendar every since the new FLW schedule came out. Not because I know Norman, in fact, I've never really spend any time on it. Well, I have been on it once, participating in the Ryan Newman Foundation Charity Tournament this past Dec. But mainly because its only 3 hours from my house and a great opportunity for my family, friends, and fans to come experience a FLW event. I really hope Charlotte rolls out the red carpet for everyone. It is Nascar Country.
My plan today is to drive up, fish till dark, then meet Matt so I can stay at his house. I hit I 85 just outside Greensboro and immediately come to a screeching halt. At first I'm thinking this is probably just the aftermath from the morning rush hour, but after sitting in one place for 15 minutes decide to turn on my CB. Truckers are hollering over the air waves to get off I 85 before you get to exit 92, there is an accident involving three 18 wheelers at exit 86. I look around, there is an exit sign just behind me, its exit 91. Great, I missed the exit. Bad news is that everywhere I look, to my right is two lines of stopped traffic. To my left is two lanes of stopped traffic. The ramp is backed up, there is no where to go. All I can hear is a dead silence except the banter over the CB from the truckers going north telling us, "hope you all brought your lunch, because you are gonna be there awhile". To make a long story (day) short, I sat in the worst traffic jam I have ever been in my life, and that includes over 10 years of traveling the interstate system. I literally sat in one spot on I 85 from 8am till 1:30 PM. I've never worked on my tackle or studied a map while sitting in the middle of an interstate but I did today.
Day Two: Its only a 3 hour drive from my house to the lake, I left yesterday, and I still haven't managed to wet a line! Today, the weather is forecast to warm up with a chance of severe storms. I mention only because we had three nights prior that produced frost. And we are coming off that after having several days of record high temperatures. I heard the fish had started spawning during the warm weather, but the cold snap backed them off. I really hope this does not turn into a sight fishing event like the one in Tenn.
Day Three: Today I will spend in a different area of the lake. Its alot cooler this morning, with a jacket required and your breath being seen. But being its Sunday, and will warm up, the big boat armada will be in full force on Norman. I heard that the boats match the size of the houses on Norman, its true. The houses on this lake are enormous, and so is the wakes from their yachts. But while fishing, I noticed that in certain area's the shad seem to be spawning. I start running this pattern and produce my best stringer so far, a limit that will scare 16 pounds. I also manage my biggest spot ever. Nothing close to the lake record, but man what a fight this feisty bass put up. If the weather will stay cold, I think I can catch them this way.
I bump into Little E, he has found the same about the shad spawn. Little E is staying with his brother at Norman, so its a nice change for him to be around his family. Tonight I will accompany Matt and his new bride to his parents house for a great family cook out. It sure beats restaurant food !
The good news is that I am close enough to my home that I can go home tonight in time to attend my senior daughters final home softball game. I did some measuring, the place I am staying is 62 miles south from the Cabarrus Convention Center, site of the Final Days weigh in and Fun Zone. And its in the opposite direction of the Center. My home is 90 miles north from the Convention Center, so it just seems 'meant to be' that I finished where I did and will get to watch my oldest play her last softball game on such a memorable night for all being Senior Night. Its really hard to believe that I will never get to see her play ball again on the same school grounds I played on. Just hard to believe how time flies. I can remember escorting her first timid steps up to the plate as a little shy kid in recreation league softball. Now I'm a proud father escorting her onto the field as a Senior. She has grown into a talented starting player who shares co-captain honors on her Varsity softball team. They will go on to win their final home game 11-1.
Day Four: Brrr, its cold today. I'd love to sleep in, or better yet, join Matt in the field. Matt is going to try and shoot a turkey that we heard gobbling in his back yard last night. I'm not on enough to pass on fishing, plus today will be my last full day of practice. Tomorrow I am participating in the Hendrick Motor Sports Nascar/FLW tournament. (More on that tomorrow) Today, the weather really warms up, and so does the water temps. I manage to catch alot of small fish, not much in weight. Matt doesn't have much better luck with his Tom as it stayed hemmed up with a couple hens. Back at the ramp, I am greeted by alot of boats putting in. One guy walks up to me and ask if I want to fish the night tournament. Man, this lake has the tournament pressure on it. I will pass on night fishing, lol.
Day Five: Today will be spend participating in the Nascar/National Guard Invitational Tournament on Lake Wylie. This is a special 4 hour tournament in which FLW pros will be paired with Casey Mears and his crew at Rick Hendrick Motor Sports. When I first agreed to do this, I was told it would be on Lake Norman. Hey, good fun while I still practiced for the real FLW tournament. For some reason, they notified me that it had been moved to Lake Wylie. I kept my word and participated since I am a Nascar fan and thought it would be fun. The format is one FLW pro will be paired with a team member from Casey Mears National Guard Nascar team. Casey Mears is there, along with his crew chief, pit row gang and people that you never see but are an important piece to the success of the team. Guys like the car hauler driver, chief engineer, media agent, shop foreman and even the fabrication guys. Also included is some major dignitaries in the National Guard, like the head of the National Guard for NC. We get paired up with two members, one of mine just happens to be a local newspaper reporter covering the event for the press. Its a short couple hour tournament, with the winners getting some pretty impressive trophy's and bragging rights amongst the Nascar crew. Afterwards, its a bar-b-que and tour of the impressive Hendrick Nascar facilities that includes a stable of well know drivers beside Casey Mears. Drivers like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
I will stop over back on Norman for a little late afternoon practice. Man, I feel like I have driven home and back today. I did a complete circle, starting on Buster Boyd bridge at Wylie, and ending up on Hwy 150 via I 77.
I spend most of the morning running the backs of creeks and pockets looking for some stained water. Norman is pretty much a clear water lake, a shakey head dream or nightmare depending on how you look at it. Norman has really come on in the last several years mainly because of the introduction of spotted bass. In fact, the state record spotted bass was caught here (see photo to right) by Eric Weir, that weight over 6 pounds. The bait used to catch the record fish? A shakey head worm. An interesting note, Eric Weir will be fishing this event on the boater side. No one probably has more knowledge of this lake than Lake Norman Guide Eric Weir.
I've often been ask why I haven't ever fished Norman. Norman has long had a reputation as the "Dead Sea" amongst Carolina anglers. Never know for size, just numbers. A 14 inch keeper bass would weigh less than 16 ounces. But that was before the spotted bass population exploded. Now, Norman has overcome that reputation, as a favorite destination for local tournaments and trophy spotted bass.
By noon, the skies darken, the wind gets up, its time to hit the trailer before the bottom falls out. I run to my truck before it begins to rain, only to find I have a flat tire. A flat tire? What's up with this? I mean, I had one on my trailer going to Texas, one on my truck coming back, and one last week while going to Jordan Lake. Another angler offers to help with use of his portable compressor. We get it up enough that I can drive down the street to a store and fix it.
Day Three: Like yesterday, today I will have obligations that will make practice time hard. I will visit the Charlotte Children's Hospital along with fellow Masterfoods pro Chris Baumgardner. Its over an hour drive to the Norman ramp, and from there its over 2 hours to the hospital. Since we are required to be off the water by noon, its just not enough time to fish and get to the hospital that morning. I'm not really complaining, its a neat deal meeting the kids and their families and seeing them smile under such trying circumstances. It makes us all humble. I really could relate to one young sick girl who just turned 16, she said "my main goal is to get better so I can get my drivers license like my friends.". I ask her what kinda car she wanted, "a mustang"! My youngest daughter is about to turn 16, so the situation really hits home.
Its atleast another 90 minute drive to the Carbarrus Convention Center, so FLW officials will check us in while we are at the hospital. Man, for a tournament that is so close to my home, I've done more driving than I did in Austin TX! Get this, when we turn into the Convention Center parking lot, the road sign out front says, "Raleigh 112 miles". The first thing I hear when I enter the building is how the fish really hit the bank today, they were lined up in certain areas on the bed. Great. I can only hope the little pre-spawn pattern I found several days will work. Again, as was the pattern in the earlier events, I will get a late take off number. The good news is that I'm paired with Va. co-angler Darrell Stevens. I've known Darrell every since I first started fishing the BFL's in the early 90's. We were paired together before, but neither of us can remember when and where.
On the way back to my place of stay, I call Matt to tell him I will be late. Guess what? I have had another flat tire. What is up with this! Its not like the tires are just going flat, I mean, each time I have found the source. Its been anything from a nail, to screw, to even a piece of a link fence. I guess if I ever retire from tournament fishing, I can apply for a tire changer with Hendrick Motor Sports. I did get some good inside connections with the team by taking them fishing.
Tournament Day One: I pick up Darrell at his hotel. I'm about 30 minutes early but its raining and I was worried I'd get up this morning with another tire to change. If nothing else, we arrive at the ramp with enough time to relax alittle while we ponder our day. The plan is to run some area's where I found the shad spawning. Its real important to my game plan to land a couple fish early around the spawn. The silence of early morning, where all you hear is the rain drops on your coat hood is suddenly broken as a Black Hawk helicopter emerges over the tree line. Its part of the first day ceremonies of the National Guard FLW Open. The pilots can be seen as they hover the craft just feet over the boats. He will do a couple maneuvers over us, one can only imagine his skill in the battlefield. The helicopter is agile as it makes several sweeps over the lake and then like a beacon in the early morning fog, gone.
Its about a 20 minute run to my starting area if I can get on it. I decide to stop in a cove near the take off site when they call my number to see if a 4 pound bass I spotted on the bed is still there. Unfortunately, either she is gone or already in someone's livewell. Off we go again. When I arrive at my original starting area, its pretty crowded. I fall in on one of the points in hopes the shad are still there. After about an hour of this pattern, its obvious the fish and shad have left. Plan B is targeting docks in the backs of creeks. Docks is not hard to find on Norman. One can literally drop the trolling motor and never lift it again while never fishing the same set of docks.
The day will go pretty good, having secured a limit and my co-angler even has a good bag. Its kind of interesting that while I was fishing a dock, Darrell make the comment there's a buck sitting on a rock, like its his bed. I pitch my jig to it, the buck eats it, while Darrell pitches a shakey head in it. Out of no where comes a 3 pound plus female and inhales the shakey head. Go figure. The jig gets the buck, which by the way ended up not even measuring, and the shakey head gets the lunker. My sack will weigh around 9 lbs. If you would have ask me what would be good on Norman, I would have said, "give me 10 pounds a day" and I would be happy. But 10 pounds is in 100 place !! As expected, the sight fishemen will dominate the standings, along with the shakey head. My co-angler will finish the first day in the top 10.
Tournament Day Two: Like yesterday, the game plan is to target the shad spawn early, and then the docks. My co-angler partner today is from Fla. She's lady co-angler Judy Israel. When I arrive at the ramp, its pouring down rain. The launching line is moving extremely slow. So slow, that I'm worried we will miss our early flight take off. Its a hectic rush once we get in the water thru boat check, but we make our designated take off time. Again like yesterday, I find the shad bite slow. I'm figuring the pre-spawn bass that was feeding on the shad has moved to the bank to spawn. We started targeting shallow stumps and rocks with jigs, and start catching fish. Overall, its a strange day, with the size being smaller and the numbers off for the entire field. I will end up way down in the field. What a major disappointment. I know I probably put more pressure on myself to do good here since its so close to my home. I also know that since I am from NC, allot took for granted I would do good on Norman. Either way, I don't. I hate it because it was a golden opportunity for my family to make a short drive and see me fish. To top it off, as we are going to the weigh in tent, Judy will trip on the rain slick pavement, spilling her bag of fish and busting up her knees and hand. Not a great ending for a tournament that I had marked with anticipation on the calendar.
Since I am so close to the Convention Center, my wife gets to come back with me during the Fun Zone this morning. Its the first time she has attended an FLW tournament since we went to an all indoor weigh in. The crowds are good, as is the weather. Its also good that my wife gets to attend because I need all the help I can get in the Pedigree Pavilion. My fellow Pedigree teammate Greg Pugh has made the finals. Go Greg. I wish I was fishing with him, being its my home state. But perhaps there will be next year. Rumor has it that we will make a return trip to Lake Norman on the upcoming FLW season.
Mark it on your calendar,
as I will......... with the heading, "Redemption".